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How is the quality of your iPhone 5s low-light video?

How is the quality of your iPhone 5s low-light video?

Since I've gotten my iPhone 5s, I haven't taken a ton of video, but I've switched to video mode enough to know that I feel as if video quality isn't so great. After asking around and performing a quick internet search, it appears that I'm not alone either. Some people seem to have the issue, while others don't. Here are some sample shots of what I'm experiencing with low-light video...

The screenshots below are a comparison between my iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c in the exact same lighting conditions, same environment. At first I thought about getting my iPhone 5s swapped but upon testing two other iPhone 5s' in the house, they seem to both produce the same issue. The iPhone 5c doesn't seem to have it, even though I have seen some sketchy results here and there. I even tried in the above photo to find a better focus point on the 5s to change the exposure, it just wouldn't budge. Apple doesn't boast improvements in video quality for the iPhone 5s, just photo. Perhaps this is why?

I can't help but feel that the larger aperture, better sensor, and 64-bit processor in the iPhone 5s would help, not hinder the quality of video, even if there weren't improvements made specifically to benefit video capture. What do you guys think?

Here's more examples of iPhone 5s photo quality compared to video, in my experience:

I'm inclined to think this is a software issue since I'm seeing the problem on quite a few iPhone 5s', not just one or two. I'll be interested to see what you guys think and if you're having issues as well, so let us know!

Allyson Kazmucha

Help and how to editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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There are 38 comments. Add yours.

iEd says:

I just noticed this the other day shooting a little video in well it banquet room. Was much darker than I expected.

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WowItsHuge says:

That's funny, the C is better than S!

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unstoppablekem says:

I see this type of problem with zooming on video vs picture. Way different from both, for some reason. This is on my iPad 3, happening since iOS 5.

steviet02 says:

I'm not sure why you think it's a software issue, it very well may be, but just because you've seen it on a few 5s's doesn't mean it's software. It could be a hardware issue considering the cameras are different from the 5c and 5s.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

You could very well be right. I've tried a DFU restore, no change. Maybe it is. Just my hunch since it's touch and go, very finicky. Sometimes I can get it to balance the exposure correctly but it takes a lot of work. That to me seems like a software problem.

steviet02 says:

I didn't realize you were able to get the exposure right, i would agree with your hunch in that case.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

It's not easy and typically takes a lot more effort than a normal person would exert before just giving up. And if you move, the exposure changes again at times. Very frustrating. Could still be hardware, just seems that software is a more likely suspect.

Patrick Drews says:

Definitely poor quality in low light. The camera is the only thing I truly miss from my Lumia 920 Windows phone. But, camera isn't where my day is productive, but you would think Apple would be far ahead of any other mobile device.

iPad mini is horrible in low light photo and video. You'd think you were using an iPad 2.

shemoanscazrex3 says:

Well technically that's what an ipad mini is just in a smaller form factor with slightly upgraded things here and there

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Keep in mind an iPad mini pretty much is an iPad 2 crammed into a smaller form factor. It's basically an iPad 2 that went on a diet ;)

Patrick Drews says:

On the contrary, iPad mini has the much more advanced camera and video specs to the iPad 2. iPad 2 has 920x720 rear camera (with literally no options) w/720p HD video and VGA Facetime camera/video. Mini has 5MP iSight, 5 element lens,etc, 1080p HD video, and Facetime camera has 1.2 MP photos and 720p HD video. A staggering contrast. To me, the Mini is closer to the iPhone 5 specs, but not quite par I believe.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Forgot about the camera differences. You're right.

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Jsoncv80 says:

I went to capture video the other day and that totally stood out to me. Funny it's posted now. I feel like it's completely a fixable via software update.

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Jusbali says:

If you think that is bad, you haven't seen Lumia 1020 video capture in low light. I also compared 5 to 5S and 5 was brighter but there was so much more noise in 5. Here is Lumia 1020 compared to the 5S: https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=D71312A5A39B112F!2988&authkey=!ADX...

marcobrien says:

I'm having the exact same issue. Here's a comparison between my iPhone 5S & iPad Air. You'd think the 5S would be far superior?!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/rey2cn8w5nko430/2013-11-12%2018.44.10.jpg

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Excellent example! Yes, I'd agree. This is most of the reason I still think it's software. I could very well be wrong but it just seems the software on the 5s that controls exposure on the camera is bugging out more than what is acceptable.

marcobrien says:

I agree. The iPhone 5S low light sensor is much more sensitive than the iPad Air, as this example of a similar shot shows when in photo mode..

https://www.dropbox.com/s/um0b34io8bwr5uc/2013-11-12%2020.37.55.jpg

iEd says:

Was this a issue on the 5? I'm coming for a 4s which didn't seem to have this issue.

Allyson Kazmucha says:

I did not see the issue on my 5. Video will be darker in general than a still photo but the change is very drastic on the 5s. It was much more subtle on the 5 when toggling between them. Ironically the 5c and 5 seem to handle exposure better for video than the 5s, which shouldn't be the case I wouldn't think.

Polyphonie says:

I think it has to do with the choice of aperture for video. For obvious reason, you really can't really open the lens to its fullest because you'll end up with a very narrow depth of field. Not ideal for a camera that isn't stationary.

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dustlane says:

I just got a new 5S. I also have a GS4. I hate to say it but the GS4 beats the iPhone in both picture and video quality in low light. However, if I turn the screen brightness all the way up, it helps a lot with both pics and video but the video is still unacceptably dark. This is a big area of concern for me as I take a lot of pictures and video. I got the iPhone due to its rep for having a great camera. I'll give it another day or so but this iPhone may be going back.

NATE072107 says:

There might be a difference in the actual capture rather than just a screen shot. Lets see an actual video

Allyson Kazmucha says:

Nope. Same.

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PJSheppard says:

I just downloaded Night Camera HD which is a good alternative until Apple sorts this out. I really hope it's a software issue as this app looks great in low light.

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Allyson Kazmucha says:

Awesome tip, thanks!

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Morac says:

I noticed this over the weekend when I went to take video some place and the videos were extremely dark. Much darker than they should be. Photos were okay though. I just assumed this was "normal" and that the photo did extra processing or something.

I just compared the video low-light video between my iPhone 5S and iPad 2 and they are identical.

It's definitely an issue with the camera app though and not the phone as I have an app called MoviePro which takes great low light video on my iPhone 5S.

Edit:

I found the pattern. If I switch MoviePro from taking video at 30 fps to 60 or 120 fps, then I get the same dark video as the camera app. So the camera must be taking 60 fps video which has a problem with low light levels. I'm not sure Apple could fix this, unless they had the phone switch to 30 fps in low light levels.

Does the 5C take 30 fps or 60 fps video?

Edit 2:

Doing a search I found that the iPhone 5 can take 60 fps video at 720p on the iPhone 5 in third party apps. I don't know if it can so so in the camera app.

Edit 3:

I found an iPhone 5S vs 5 video on YouTube. You can around the 3 minute mark, the dark room is a bit more visible on the 5 vs the 5S, but not grossly so. I wonder why?

http://youtu.be/1EWpFM30yPY
http://youtu.be/bQkMhgcKIIc

congressdj says:

Great. I had not noticed this until reading your article. My low-light video is horrendous. Even when I turn on the LED light, it is still darker than the still picture - by a lot.

KekoaLani says:

I was at a party two days ago, and took photos and videos, and remarked to my husband how great they looked compared to my iPhone 4S and 5. They were well lit and not grainy. However, tonight I went to take a photo of our sunset and my camera app quit several times. I took one photo and a quick video before it quit. I then turned my phone off and on, and no screen. I reset my phone by holding home button and on button and now my screen shows plug into iTunes. I called Tech support. The tech said he would call back in a couple minutes. 5 minutes later I called back and was told tech support was closed! Will I have to restore my phone or do DFU, and will I lose my photos? Any hints? I waited over 4 weeks for this gold iPhone so it is very disappointing!

simonholden says:

This is not really a story, just the fundamental rules of how cameras work.

When taking a digital image, there are 3 main factors - aperture (or f-stop), shutter speed and ISO (sensitivity). In manual mode on a 'proper' camera you can experiment with all of these to achieve a desired result. In automatic mode, the camera makes all the decisions hoping to manage a decent (fast) shutter speed to combat camera shake or motion blur, a low value ISO to reduce noise, and an appropriate aperture to get the best exposure.

Unfortunately, when shooting video one of these factors is set in stone. At 30fps your shutter speed will be set to 1/30th of a second, and at 120fps this will be 1/120th of a second. If you are talking about low light conditions, then you are required to open the aperture or increase the ISO to compensate. The iPhone 5s has an aperture of f/2.2, so that becomes another limiting factor. The only place left to go is an increase in ISO - meaning more noise.

Therefore the iPhone 5s is either hitting it's (reported) ISO 2500 maximum, or deciding on a compromise value to avoid excessive noise. In other words, if there isn't enough light to be shooting video, you shouldn't be trying to shoot video. At least not until sensor technology improves, which will happen eventually.

So, going back to comparing stills performance to video performance in low light, when taking a regular photo the camera is free to have longer exposure times than 1/30th of a second and employ image stabilisation to help with the inevitable camera shake if handheld. If you were shooting video on a Canon 5D Mark II & III for example, you would still be limited to the frame rate you are shooting at - 24fps, 25fps, 30fps = 1/24th, 1/25th, 1/30th or a second - but you would be free to change the lens for a better (lower) f-stop and / or increase the ISO well beyond what the limits of the iPhone.

I can't explain why the 5s is different to the 5C because the specs would indicate that the results should technically be the other way round, other than to say that perhaps Apple changed their algorithms to limit how noisy they would allow video to be.

Hope that all makes sense, and rest assured that your new, shiny iPhone (probably) isn't faulty :-)

Simon

cgs101 says:

It's actually the quality of low light photos on the 5s which I find disappointing. Plenty of colour, good contrast but the images are not sharp at all.

caffine_dreams says:

I'm actually surprised in what the phone can do for how small it is

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larryganz says:

Wow, I hadn't checked until now, but my iPhone 5s video quality in low light is much much worse than my previous iPhone 5 that I still have. It's way too dark. Even my iPad air does better low light video than my 5s. This sucks. I will report this to apple, and hope they come up with a fix soon. This is awful.

knitwitch44 says:

I just noticed after reading the article .

Jeroen Dijkermans says:

I have the exact same problem. It happens in most low-light situations. I've also tested it with the ipad2, iphone 4s and 3gs and the exposure is way better, almost equal to the brightness of the photos.

barneytolsta says:

Same problem as you all. The wife has an iphone 5 and the problem is not there on hers so it's very specific to the iphone 5s. I have started a thread on the apple forums on this if anyone wants to add to it. It sounds like this is a problem now that needs resolved. We all bought the phone on the promise of better low light photos. We shouldn't have to sacrifice video performance for that.
https://discussions.apple.com/message/24210873#24210873

dsi76 says:

Sorry for chiming in so late, but after some googling I found a workaround for this issue. I discovered an iPhone app called VideoGrade that can adjust your videos after they are recorded. You can do this kind of post-processing on a computer but it's much more convenient with the app. I loaded up my dark videos in VideoGrade, adjusted the exposure and tweaked a few other settings, and voila, I got the video I wanted! It doesn't downscale the original video either.. unless you tell it to. However, the app is $4.99 but in my opinion it is more than worth it. Very nice. (P.S. I don't have any affiliation with the company.)